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Two councils lead the way towards improving democracy in Welsh local elections

11 Dec 2023 3 minute read
Voting ballot box.

Jessica Blair, Director the Electoral Reform Society Cymru 

This week two local authorities took a small but momentous step to transforming their local democracy, backing a vote to consult the public on a major change to the voting system for their elections.

Since the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act passed in 2021 councils across Wales have been able to vote to move from the current First Past the Post (FPTP) voting system to the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, used in Scotland and Northern Ireland for local elections.

The votes in Powys and Gwynedd mean councillors in those areas have backed a public consultation and the local authorities will ask people in their local area for their views on the change before making a final decision.


This is a significant move towards a much fairer democracy, which is desperately needed for voters across Wales.

The local elections last year were blighted with disproportional results and uncontested seats. Nearly 100,000 voters had no say in who their elected representative was.

Half of all local authorities in Wales now feature a party receiving over 10% more seats than their vote share, and over a third of councils in Wales have a party with a majority of seats on a minority of votes.

Take for instance Cardiff, where Labour hold 70% of the seats with just 47% of the vote. Or Ynys Môn, where Plaid Cymru have 60% of the seats despite winning 41% of the vote.

This goes the other way too, across Wales parties lose as much as they gain from the distorting effects of First Past the Post. Plaid, standing as Common Ground with the Greens in Cardiff, ended with just 2 of the council’s 79 seats despite winning 17% of the vote across the city. It really is an electoral toss up for who gets represented – and who gets to set the agenda locally.

STV provides an alternative to this and at its very basis is about ensuring council chambers accurately represent the areas they serve.

Proportional results

After its introduction in Scotland in 2007 there has been a significant decrease in the number of uncontested seats and much more proportional results. In the first two elections after STV was introduced there were no uncontested seats in Scotland.

In Scotland’s most recent elections uncontested seats have only ever reached heights of 1.5%. In the same period uncontested seats in Wales reached a height of 7.2% In Wales, half of our Councils have a party in them who receive over 10% more seats than their share of the vote would allocate them to under STV. In Scotland, it is less than a fifth.

Moving to consult on this change offers Councillors the opportunity to hear from the public on how these injustices are impacting them, what’s not working, and what could be better under a different voting system.

This is our chance for a positive conversation on local democracy and how to strengthen it.

Sadly, there are some authorities in Wales where councillors have voted against a consultation and decided not to ask the public about what sort of democracy they would like at a local level. That’s hardly democratic.

What local representatives in Powys and Gwynedd have done is show that when looking at improving anything for the people they seek to represent, that they should talk and listen to them first.

By backing this vote to consult Powys and Gwynedd have led the way and other councils across Wales should look to follow.

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Andrew Robinson-Redman
Andrew Robinson-Redman
7 months ago

Will Carmarthen follow that lead?

Ernie The Smallholder
Ernie The Smallholder
7 months ago

It seems that Powys and Gwynedd so far are the only councils to have declared their desire to move to STV fair voting and Ceredigion and Carmarthen the only councils considering. These have ruling groups Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats that are moving to fairer voting on principle. We need a campaign to get the councils in South Wales and North Wales be given the option to consider the change to fairer voting. All these councils are run by labour or have conservatives who consider holding on to power with a minority to be more important than giving their electorate… Read more »

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